REVIEW: Gemini Man (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Paramount Pictures

The following is a review of Gemini Man (in regular 2D, 24fps) — Directed by Ang Lee.

Digital de-aging is a trend in Hollywood that we should probably get used to. Disney’s Marvel films have used this technology to make actors like Michael Douglas look fresh-faced and young. Disney has also shown that they are unafraid of bringing deceased actors’ likenesses back to the big screen like they did in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Gemini Man, though not a Disney film, is a major motion picture blockbuster built on this not-so-cheap trick.

In Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, we follow Henry Brogan (played by Will Smith), the most efficient and dangerous government assassin in the world, as he is about to leave the business for good. When Brogan finds out that his final mission was under false pretenses, his former agency decides to hunt Brogan down and kill him to keep him quiet. But Brogan is a tough man to kill, so they have to send the only man who could complete the mission, who just so happens to look exactly like a younger version of him. Brogan isn’t just meeting his match, this assassin is younger and therefore both stronger and faster than the retired protagonist.

It makes sense that someone like the Oscar-winning Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Life of Pi) would direct this film. Lee has toyed and experimented with groundbreaking technology for quite some time. Life of Pi was a tremendous 3D-experience, and, like he has done with Gemini Man, he has previously experimented with HFR (high frame rate).

Gemini Man is at its best when dialogue is used sparingly, which is to say that I was particularly fond of Ang Lee’s latest film when it was the fast-paced action film and potential franchise-starter that Will Smith may or may not have been looking for. The film’s biggest highlight is the action sequence in which two Will Smiths chase each other through Cartagena, Colombia on motorcycles. It’s an exciting action sequence that pops when compared to some of the other more dimly lit action sequences (which may have been lit dimly in an attempt to make us confused about which Will Smith is the protagonist).

Also, I do think that both Lee and Smith do their utmost to elevate the written work that the film is based on. Unfortunately, the script, credited to three screenwriters (including Game of Thrones‘ David Benioff), is the one element in particular that sinks the film. When you consider that the de-aging gimmick is the film’s main selling point, it is absolutely baffling how long it takes for the main character to understand just how much they look alike. Some of the dialogue is just puzzling and laughably bad at times. To me, the scene where Henry Brogan meets with Yuri Kovacs (played by Ilia Volok) is particularly awkward. But I also thought it was an awful choice for the writers to have Henry Brogan refer to ‘killing someone’ as AMF. When we learn what AMF stands for, it is as silly as it possibly could be.

It stands to reason that Gemini Man can only work as an action film if the central gimmick works. Ultimately, I’m fairly impressed by the digital de-aging. I think that, in most scenes, this VFX-trick is astonishing and very convincing, even if it may not look exactly like how we remember young Will Smith. However, in movement and daylight, the plastic-like appearance is tough to ignore. I wasn’t distracted by the digital de-aging until the final scene it appears in. At this point, it suddenly looks like a horrendous eyesore. This effect is so distracting in this scene that I’m not sure I remember any word that was said in it.

Other than the apparent but amusing Coca Cola-product placement, Will Smith is the film’s biggest star, and, again, I think he does a fairly good job. It’s nice to see him in a role that acknowledges his age. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays an agent from one of the agencies on Brogan’s tail, gets a couple of decent action moments, but she also has to put up with an odd scene in which she is ordered to undress at gunpoint. Benedict Wong, who plays one of Brogan’s old friends, seems to have had a lot of fun being in this film, but his character, like others, isn’t fully-formed.

Although the writing is ridiculous, Ang Lee’s fairly bland Gemini Man isn’t as lifeless as I expected it to be. It certainly has its moments, including the aforementioned striking Cartagena-action scene, and, for the most part, the digital de-aging gimmick works. However, when the trick doesn’t work it is a distracting eyesore. Gemini Man isn’t the groundbreaking action film that Ang Lee may have envisioned it as, but it certainly isn’t the complete and utter failure it could’ve been.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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